Holly Brockwell: Interviewing the Interviewers

In NDA’s Interviewing the Interviewers series, we caught up with some of the best interviewers in our industry, from journalists to independent content creators, turning the tables to find out what makes them tick.

The opinionated, knowledgeable and passionate Holly Brockwell is a freelance tech journalist working for publications including Techradar, Gizmodo, The Guardian and the Evening Standard.

What is your biggest hope and your biggest fear for the tech industry in 2019?

Biggest hope: that people realise there is life beyond Apple gadgets and actually, they’re overpriced and under-featured. There is SO much better out there, it just doesn’t have very good advertising.

Biggest fear: that politicians who don’t understand anything about tech will implement sweeping surveillance regulations because they think being able to spy on people’s WhatsApp group chat about who left the toilet roll empty will stop terrorism.

What was your biggest personal industry highlight of 2018?

For the second year in a row, I got to host Computing’s Women in IT Excellence Awards in November, and I loved every second. I got to meet and talk to some of the most incredible women in computer science and IT and introduce some mind-blowing speakers to the stage (including the wonderful Tracy Edwards MBE who recently made a film about taking the first ever all-female team to the Round The World Race in 1989 despite constant sexism and setbacks).

I always get the most satisfaction from my job when I’m advocating for causes I believe in, and diversity in tech is one of my favourite. I used to go to schools and talk to kids about why they should grow up to work in tech, and I’ve been neglecting that a bit because I’ve got too many things on – I need to start doing that again.

One school had a Friday afternoon Feminism Club, how cool is that?!

Who was the most inspirational person you interviewed in 2018 and why?

Definitely the amazing Ivy Ross, VP of Hardware Design for Google. Sadly, the interview got bumped by something newsworthy and hasn’t run yet – I could have written a book with all the incredible insights I got from her.

I’m hoping she’ll form a crimefighting team with me one day. Holly and Ivy, what could be better?

What one technology are you most excited about this year and why?

It’s all about foldable phones this year. Smartphones have been dull black rectangles for years, and now that foldable screen tech is almost ready, they’ve started getting interesting – and weird! – again.

We’ve already seen some fascinating patents filed by the big guys, and I can’t wait to see the products in the flesh.

They won’t be great immediately – there are still some big issues with foldy screens, like the crease that apparently appears on the Samsung Galaxy Fold after about 10,000 folds – but it’s wonderful to see the big brands going off in different directions, really innovating and offering very different products from one another again.

Except Apple, of course. They’ll no doubt “invent” foldable screens in about 2022. 

What was your favourite ad or digital experience of 2018?

My wonderful friend Matt Navarra offered his personal Twitter account for a 24-hour takeover by anyone who fancied it. Amazingly, Twitter themselves volunteered, and the resulting takeover was full of good humour and self-deprecating jokes.

The resulting coverage was a bit harsh, I thought the Twitter team did a great job and I really enjoyed the feed while it lasted. It’s nice to see a social brand actually being social.

What is the buzzword or phrase you’d like to ban forever?

“Shop the edit.” This is a particular piece of linguistic nonsense that springs up on wanky fashion and beauty sites.

If you’ve never heard it, an “edit” is a collection of “pieces” (products, in normal language) put together (“curated,” of course) by an editor, which you can then “shop” (buy things from).

It’s often used as a call to action on website buttons – a site will advertise its collection of products on a certain theme and then invite you to “shop the edit.”

At which point I “click the X.”

Who’s the one industry figure you’d most like to interview you yet haven’t?

Cindy Gallop. She’s doing absolutely amazing things for sextech and I admire her so much, I think my head would explode if I tried to talk to her.

We did interview her for my site Gadgette, but I didn’t do it myself – too scared!

How could someone persuade you to interview them and what would put you off completely?

I’m a bit weirded out by the idea of someone trying to persuade me! If they’re interesting and relevant to what I do, I’ll probably want to interview them, the only thing that gets in the way is time.

I get a lot of amazing pitches for interviewees and I can only do so many, so I guess my best advice would be to keep trying (not excessively, just like every six months) and be willing to be flexible.

Sometimes I can fit in an email interview, but not transcribing an hour of speech – one person missed out on some amazing coverage because she didn’t feel like typing her answers out and wanted me to do it.

I always will if I can, but if someone else is willing to send me answers in text and my deadline’s in two hours, I’m going with the person who’ll work with me.

Personally, I always send my interview answers in text (as I am right now!) – I much prefer to be able to think answers through and be coherent.

I’m too chatty on the phone and get off topic 5,000 times, plus I would never consign someone else to transcription hell.

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